First, Spavital delivered a quick reminder to his old boss that he should be cautious in his preparation for the Dec. 29 game.
DEC. 29, 2 P.M. ET, LIBERTY BOWL MEMORIAL STADIUM, MEMPHIS, TENN. (ESPN)
TEXAS A&M BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: The Aggies started 5-0, including a 52-28 win at the start of the year at then-No. 9 South Carolina, a win that was significant before we knew what kind of team South Carolina really was. Texas A&M also went to then-No. 3 Auburn on Nov. 8 and knocked the Tigers out of the College Football Playoff with a 41-38 victory. There were some impressive individual performances, from Kenny Hill’s quarterbacking debut vs. South Carolina to Kyle Allen’s performance at Auburn. All season long, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett was a force, breaking Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record with 11.
Season lowlights: Texas A&M endured a brutal three-game losing streak in the middle of the season, getting decisively defeated by Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama. The worst loss was at Alabama, where the Aggies weren’t even competitive and were embarrassed to the tune of 59-0. It was the program’s worst loss since 2003. After winning the next two games, the Aggies lost their final two, though in much closer fashion, to Missouri and LSU. The defense was poor and wound up last in the SEC in yards per game and rushing, leading to the firing of defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. Linebackers coach Mark Hagen is the interim defensive coordinator for the bowl.
Player to watch: There are several young stars, but Garrett is the one to keep an eye on. An injury suffered at Auburn slowed him in his final two games (missing the Missouri game), but the bowl-season rest should serve him well for a strong finale to his debut campaign. With 11 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hurries and a blocked kick, Garrett has been a force all season. A five-star recruit who was No. 4 overall in the 2014 ESPN 300, the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder has lived up to the hype.
Motivation factor: A win would be good for morale, allowing the Aggies to end a transitional year on a positive note. The season was nightmarish at times, but A&M recovered nicely after the Alabama debacle to win a couple games and be competitive in the final two losses. It may be only one game, but 8-5 looks better than 7-6, and the Aggies are about to enter a 2015 season in which the expectations are going to be raised. The team will be in its fourth SEC season, as will Kevin Sumlin, and tangible results need to follow. Gaining momentum with a bowl victory would be a nice start.
-- Sam Khan Jr.
Season highlights: After playing Alabama and Oklahoma tough, the Mountaineers finally broke through on Oct. 18 against then-fourth-ranked Baylor. Clint Trickett and Kevin White hooked up for 132 yards and two touchdowns as West Virginia knocked off the Bears 41-27. It was also a masterful performance from the Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley defense, which sacked quarterback Bryce Petty four times.
Season lowlights: After the win over Baylor, the Mountaineers were a quarter away two weeks later from hopping into the Big 12 title and playoff races against then-No. 7 TCU with ESPN “College GameDay” in town. But after jumping to a 30-21 lead, West Virginia failed to produce a first down in the fourth quarter, and the Horned Frogs drilled a 37-yard field goal as time expired to escape Morgantown with a 31-30 win. The emotional defeat sent West Virginia into a minor tailspin, as the Mountaineers would lose three in a row before rebounding in the regular-season finale with a 37-24 win at Iowa State.
Player to watch: A Biletnikoff Award finalist, White has been one of the top receivers in college football all year. He finished the regular season leading the Big 12 with 102 receptions and 1,318 receiving yards. White opened the year with seven straight games of at least 100 yards receiving, including 143 against Alabama and 173 against Oklahoma.
Motivation factor: Despite the late three-game slide, the Mountaineers outperformed preseason expectations to make a bowl game. A win to put them at 8-5 on the year would give Dana Holgorsen’s program plenty of momentum heading into 2015.
-- Jake Trotter
We knew the SEC would get one team into the inaugural College Football Playoff when Alabama beat Missouri on Saturday. Nailing down the destinations for the conference's other 11 bowl-eligible teams is much more difficult.
Here are our best guesses in the final hours before we will know for sure:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Mississippi State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Arkansas
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: Georgia
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Florida
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina
Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
Beaty, 44, had two stints as an assistant coach in Lawrence, Kansas, coaching the Jayhawks' wide receivers from 2008 to '09 before returning for a stint as the co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach in 2011.
The school fired Charlie Weis on Sept. 28, a day after a 23-0 loss to Texas. Weis was in his third season at the school and went 6-22 in his time leading the Jayhawks. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen served as the interim head coach for the final eight games of the season for the 3-9 Jayhawks.
Bowen will remain on the Jayhawks' staff as defensive coordinator, Beaty announced.
"I am very excited to be back at Kansas," Beaty said in a statement. "I am especially excited that Clint Bowen has agreed to stay on as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. Clint will be a huge part of our success going forward and I am fortunate to have him on my staff."
The school will formally introduce Beaty at a news conference at 9:30 a.m. CT Monday.
Beaty spent the past three seasons in College Station, Texas, as the Aggies' receivers coach and added recruiting coordinator to his title in 2013. He oversaw the development of Mike Evans, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft who is enjoying a standout rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was an All-American in 2013 at Texas A&M.
Sumlin’s provided a memorable answer.
“What's my assessment?” Sumlin replied as a smile began to emerge. “It's a pretty damn hard league.”
As the Aggies await news of their bowl destination to write the final chapter on their 2014 season, much that can be gathered from their third season in the SEC. Life after "Johnny Football" isn’t easy and it takes time to build a consistent winner. That much is clear.
With the regular season wrapped up and only a bowl remaining, the stage is being set for a critical 2015 season that will go a long way in defining A&M’s time in the SEC and Sumlin’s career in Aggieland.
The Aggies first season post-Johnny Manziel wound up close to what many predicted, with Texas A&M going 7-5 and finishing sixth in the SEC West. (The Aggies were picked sixth in the preseason conference media poll.) How they got there was unexpected. They looked dominant to start the season, racing to 5-0 before losing five of their last seven games, which included a brutal midseason three-game losing streak.
There have been ups and downs: Texas A&M is 27-13 since joining the SEC and 13-11 in conference play. The ups included Manziel’s Heisman Trophy season in the Aggies’ first year in the league in 2012. That team produced three first-round NFL draft picks and was the focus of the college football world often during Manziel’s time there.
Downs included a season that fell below expectations in 2013 and two years of last-in-the-SEC defense that hastened Mark Snyder’s demise as defensive coordinator. Sumlin is searching for a replacement, recruiting is in full swing and the stage is being set for what will be the most important season to date for the Aggies in their SEC tenure and for Sumlin himself.
Going into Year 4, the Aggies are going to be expected to make significant steps forward, given the investment in the program. Nearly $500 million is being spent on football facility renovations. Kyle Field, is undergoing a $450 million renovation to be completed before the 2015 season. Locker rooms and training facilities have been renovated and a football-only weight room was added in 2012. The Bright Football Complex also underwent renovations to its lobby and a nutrition center was added last year. The coaches' offices will be renovated this offseason. The team also invested plenty in Sumlin, rewarding him with raises after each of the last two seasons, bringing his salary to $5 million a year.
Those investments are made with championships in mind, and the expectation is that the Aggies must begin taking steps toward one soon.
When Texas A&M left Tuscaloosa bruised, battered and beaten down on Oct. 18 after an embarrassing 59-0 loss to Alabama, the Aggies appeared to be at a crossroads. It was the program’s worst loss in more than a decade. It was certainly the worst of Kevin Sumlin’s head coaching career, and there were valid questions about whether the Aggies could recover from such a jarring defeat.
Though the regular season didn’t end the way the Aggies hoped, with consecutive losses to Missouri and LSU, the Aggies’ response to the debacle at Alabama quelled a lot of fears that spawned from Oct. 18. The Aggies won two in a row, including a stunning upset at then-No. 3 Auburn, knocking the Tigers out of the College Football Playoff top four. Sumlin appeared to right the ship.
And though they lost their final two, they remained in each game until the final minute. The same couldn’t be said vs. Alabama, Mississippi State or Ole Miss. Their final stretch suggests a willingness to fight, important for a young team as it moves forward.
The coming months are critical for establishing the foundation for a run in 2015. Texas A&M needs to add critical pieces to its recruiting class, which is ranked fifth in the nation. If that holds, it would be the Aggies’ third consecutive top-10 class.
Sumlin must get the right guy, whoever it may be, at defensive coordinator. History suggests the offense will be fine under Sumlin but the defense has been the Achilles’ heel and must improve if the Aggies are to become contenders.
Improved quarterback play is a must. Kyle Allen took the reins after the three-game losing streak and the freshman went 2-2. He’ll have to continue to progress if he is the starter of the future.
The schedule sets up well for the Aggies in 2015. They don’t leave the state of Texas until their seventh game, when they visit Ole Miss. With seven home games (including Alabama and Auburn) and nine total in Texas, the stage is set for the Aggies to take a big next step. If they’re to be true, long-term contenders in the SEC West, 2015 is the season to take tangible steps in that direction.
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Here is a recap of how some of the league’s first-year players fared in their final games of the regular season:
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did: Barnett added to his impressive season totals against Vanderbilt by recording five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in the Volunteers’ 24-17 win.
What it means: Barnett is tied for 13th nationally with 10 sacks and is tied for third with 20.5 TFLs. Not a bad rookie season -- one in which he deserves to become the rare true freshman to earn All-SEC honors as a defensive lineman.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did: Chubb had yet another 100-yard game, this time rushing 25 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 36 yards. On the negative side, he lost a fumble at the goal line, which came back to bite Georgia when rival Georgia Tech rallied to win in overtime.
What it means: Considering how he didn’t become Georgia’s feature back until midseason, Chubb’s 1,281 rushing yards (good for second in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns are all the more impressive. He and fellow freshman Sony Michel both lost costly fumbles inside the Tech 5-yard line, but both backs have been impressive overall.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
What he did: Fournette earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his efforts against Texas A&M. The star freshman ran 19 times for 146 yards and scored a highlight-reel touchdown when he ran over A&M safety Howard Matthews. Fournette also returned three kickoffs for 34 yards.
What it means: The touchdown run -- highly reminiscent of a memorable run Georgia legend Herschel Walker made against Tennessee as a freshman -- was one of the plays of the year in the SEC. Fournette has had an up-and-down first season, but he has still posted four 100-yard games and has a respectable 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns entering bowl season.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
What he did: Not to be outdone by his fellow New Orleans native Fournette, Noil also made highlight reels with his leaping 27-yard touchdown catch over LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White. Noil finished with four catches for 46 yards, returned four kickoffs for 50 yards and returned one punt for 1 yard.
What it means: Noil also lost a fumble on a kickoff return, which LSU recovered and turned into a field goal (and a 17-7 lead) just before halftime. The freshman proved once again he is one of the Aggies’ most explosive players, but that was a costly turnover in A&M's 23-17 loss.
RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky
What he did: Williams concluded an impressive freshman season with 126 rushing yards and touchdowns of 11 and 14 yards on 18 carries against Louisville. He also caught three passes for 13 yards in the Wildcats’ 44-40 loss.
What it means: One of Kentucky’s highlights came midway through the fourth quarter when Williams bulled his way through three Louisville defenders to score the go-ahead touchdown. The defense couldn’t preserve the lead, meaning the Wildcats fell short of bowl eligibility, but Williams still finished the season with 488 rushing yards, 162 receiving yards and an average of 116.1 all-purpose yards per game.
DB Jamal Adams, LSU: Recorded a team-high eight tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass in LSU’s win over Texas A&M.
OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Made eight tackles and one tackle for loss against Georgia Tech.
WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught one pass for 41 yards against Texas A&M.
QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 32 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also ran nine times for 41 yards against Florida State.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles against LSU.
DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss: Made five tackles and a sack against Mississippi State.
DB Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Intercepted a pass and made one tackle against Vanderbilt.
PK Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Made a 36-yard field goal and all three of his PATs in a win against Vanderbilt.
RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran nine times for 49 yards but also lost a key fumble at the goal line in the loss to Georgia Tech.
P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted twice against Auburn and averaged 55.5 yards per attempt, including a long of 70.
DB Devin Voorhies, LSU: Forced Noil’s fumbled kickoff return that led to an LSU field goal before halftime against Texas A&M.
DB Quincy Wilson, Florida: Recorded one tackle for a two-yard loss and also intercepted a Jameis Winston pass in the Gators’ loss to Florida State.
PK Gary Wunderlich, Ole Miss: Made a 39-yard field goal, all four of his PATs and punted once for 46 yards in a win against Mississippi State.
No. 3 WR Christian Kirk Commits To Aggies
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State